For the 2013 Labor Day holiday weekend, Magellan and I decided to tour WV’s eastern panhandle. Magellan grew up in Hedgesville in Berkeley County and we’ve traveled through the area on occasion to visit his family. In addition to spending time with his folks, this trip also involved marking a couple of items off our State Park’s VIPP cards and the 101 Unique Places to Dine in WV list.
On the way there, we decided to break up our travel and avoid college football fans with a Friday night stay in Elkins WV and dinner at the 1863 Restaurant (see review in separate post). This allowed us to take some roads less traveled, by me at least, through Grant and Hardy counties. The scenery is gorgeous, and included a brief swing by Seneca Rocks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seneca_Rocks
and along a winding road that takes you by Smoke Hole Caverns/Resort / Gift Shop http://www.smokehole.com/.
The gift shop is billed as WV’s largest and I can’t think of any place I’ve been that challenges this claim. All of the buildings around Smoke Hole look new and inviting, and after reading a recent article on the state’s caverns and caves in WV Living magazine I’m ready to head back to Smoke Hole and take a trip underground.
Our first stop in the eastern panhandle was the Bloomery Sweetshine tasting room http://bloomerysweetshine.com/. The folks here obviously love what they’re doing and for good reason. They are producing delicious, award-winning beverages. We stopped here on a drive to PA last year to sample their limoncellos and were very impressed with the offerings. Since then, they have added ginger and peach to the line-up. The ginger is even better than I anticipated, with a nice spice that would pair well with brown liquors. The peach combined with the Bloomery’s hard lemonade and some tonic water may be one of my new favorite mixed drinks. If you’re in the area when they’re open you should definitely stop in; The Liquor Company in Charleston carries several of the Bloomery’s product offerings.
After our taste test, we headed to the Hillbrook Inn http://www.hillbrookinn.com/ in Charles Town. I forget where I read about this (I subscribe to as many WV publications as possible), but I somehow recalled it was in Hedgesville which I thought was very convenient for our trip. It isn’t and wasn’t, but Magellan humored me and made reservations for Saturday and Sunday evenings. We received a little tour of the main building and learned George Washington originally owned the land on which the Hillbrook is located. The Inn has been in operation since the 80s and is quite charming, appointed with a mix of antique furniture. If you like sterility and modernity, this may not be your cup of tea, though they offer iPads in every room and wifi is available; I didn’t see a tv in our room, but I wasn’t looking for one. Also, charming could mean that your hair dryer will blow a fuse if the a/c is running … but it is easily resolved and you learn to turn off the a/c ’til your hair is dry.
Our stay included breakfast which was delicious both mornings and consisted of fresh berries and peaches as well as savory meats and eggs. Based on these two meals and our stay at this unique site, I don’t understand why the Hillbrook Inn was removed from the 2012 edition of the 101 Unique Places To Dine in WV list http://www.wvcommerce.org/travel/thingstodo/wvdining/101-places/default.aspx; it was on the 2009 list and is certainly unique, in my opinion.
The Hillbrook Inn is surrounded by beautiful grounds which include water features, a giant chess set, an inviting hammock and more. The area of our state in which the Inn is located is full of wavy roads, historical buildings and “civil” war sites. I imagine this is a great area to bike. Admittedly, I don’t bike but if I did I think the roads around this part of the state would be a nice workout with a bonus of great views.
In case you’re interested, near the Hillbrook Inn is a little piece of WV history that is currently for sale. The Stone Barn, the oldest standing in WV, along with a springhouse, home and 60+ acres may be purchased from Sotheby’s Realty. The photos at the link http://mobile.sothebysrealty.com/eng/sales/detail/180-l-2235-20448040/white-house-farm-charles-town-wv-25414 are much better than the ones I took so I encourage you to check it out to get a better idea of the types of buildings that dot the landscape in the eastern panhandle.
Saturday night’s dinner at Lot 12 Public House in Berkeley Springs is in my top 10 for sure. Magellan has posted a review of this special dining experience in a separate post.
On Sunday, we headed to Cacapon State Park http://www.cacaponresort.com/ to get our VIPP card stamped. I had no idea we have a beach in WV, but there’s one in Cacapon State Park along with many other outdoor activities. It’s a pretty park and there were lots of families enjoying summer’s last hurrah in the shelters and on the beach.
We then decided to get our VIPP stamped at Berkeley Springs State Park http://www.berkeleyspringssp.com/, one of the alternate sites on the VIPP card. I’ve driven past here on many occasions but never stopped; I’m glad I finally had a chance to do so. The history of the area and the springs are detailed in the local Museum http://museumoftheberkeleysprings.com/index.html, and the State Park offers many spa services involving the spring water. Visitors are encouraged to take off their shoes and stroll through a little canal as well as drink the water or take some home. George Washington bathed here and championed the medicinal powers of the spring water. What’s good for the US’s first president has got to be good for us all, right?
Eclectic gift shops and restaurants surround the central part of town and on this particular Sunday visit we enjoyed artisans participating in “Art In The Park” as well as a local farmer’s market. For more information on the Country’s First Spa visit http://www.berkeleysprings.com/index.html.
As hunger set in, we drove to Shephardstown for burgers at The Mecklenburg Inn. A reviewer on Yelp wrote that this bar has more character than most people he knows and I think that’s an apt description. Tin ceilings, a hodge-podge of furniture, great beer selection and good food are in abundance. If you’re in Shephardstown shopping – and you should totally do this sometime soon, they have the greatest collection of stores http://shepherdstownvisitorscenter.com/shopping – stop in for a drink, some pub fare and a visit with BK (Bar Kitty, who I unfortunately did not get to meet).
On our return trip home, we decided to stop in Lost River which includes two (!) restaurants on the 101 list and a state park. Lost River is gorgeous! We visited their local artisan center, which had a variety of locally crafted items, and the general store http://thelostrivergeneralstore.com/, which showcased a great selection of gifts. I would love to return and stay at the Guesthouse Lost River http://www.guesthouselostriver.com/ and dine at the restaurant here. It looks like a relaxing spot and the folks in this area are very friendly. For more information on this little known spot, check out these sites: http://wvlostriver.blogspot.com/ http://lostriverwv.wordpress.com/.
Lost River State Park http://www.lostriversp.com/, another VIPP stop, is a little ways down the road in Mathias and includes the historic Lighthouse Harry Lee Cabin built by General Robert E. Lee’s father. The park is full of winding roads and provides access to Moorefield up a steep ridge and back down a series of switchbacks that afford incredible views. It also takes about 40 minutes to traverse approximately 12 miles.
When planning your next weekend getaway, you should definitely consider a trip to the eastern panhandle, and take some time to travel the back roads.